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One year on, silence surrounds murder of anthropologist

(WiPC/IFEX) - The Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN (WiPC) is seriously concerned about the apparent lack of progress in the investigation into the murder of the anthropologist, author and indigenous rights activist Miguel Ángel Gutiérrez Ávila, who was beaten to death in Guerrero state on 25/26 July 2008. A year on, there has been silence from the Mexican authorities on the subject of the investigation and the crime would appear to remain unsolved.

The WiPC has sent the following letter to the Mexican Embassy in London:

Mr. Juan José Bremer, Ambassador
Mexican Embassy
16 George Street
London W1S 1LX
Tel: + (0) 20 7499 8586
Fax: + (0) 20 7907 9483

28 July 2009

Re. Investigation into the murder of anthropologist, author and activist Miguel Ángel Gutiérrez Ávila

Your Excellency,

I am writing to you as Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of International PEN, the global writers' association with 144 centres in 102 countries, to express serious concern about the apparent lack of progress in the investigation into the murder of the anthropologist, author and indigenous rights activist Miguel Ángel Gutiérrez Ávila, who was beaten to death in Guerrero state on 25/26 July 2008. A year on, there has been silence from the Mexican authorities on the subject of the investigation and the crime would appear to remain unsolved.

Gutiérrez, anthropologist, linguist, author of a number of books on the indigenous people of Guerrero state and activist for the rights of the Amuzgo people, was killed late on 25 July 2008 or in the early hours of 26 July 2008 while driving towards the capital of Guerrero, Chilpancingo de los Bravo. His body was found covered in bruises and cuts by the side of the Acapulco-Pinotepa highway near the La Caridad community in the municipality of San Marcos, Guerrero, on the morning of 26 July 2008. Although initial police reports suggested that Gutiérrez died as the result of a car accident, it was later thought that he was beaten to death. According to his family, the vehicle in which Gutiérrez was travelling was untouched and only his filming equipment had been stolen.

A few days before his death, between 23 and 25 July 2008, Gutiérrez had visited the Suljaa' and Cozoyoapan communities in Costa Chica, Guerrero, in connection with a documentary film he was making on indigenous cultures and traditions. Gutiérrez had been carrying out research into the indigenous people of southern Guerrero for more than 20 years, particularly in Costa Chica, and had been involved in various cultural projects there, including the community radio station Radio Ñomndaa and the establishment of the first Amuzgo community library. During his last visit to the area, Gutiérrez documented alleged human rights violations on the part of the authorities against the staff of Radio Ñomndaa/ La Palabra del Agua (The Word of the Water), including an interview with one of the station's founders, which he reportedly intended to include in his documentary.

According to local press reports at the time of Gutiérrez's death, one lead pointed to the involvement of Aceadeth Rocha Ramírez, mayor of Xochistlahuaca municipality in Costa Chica. Rocha is allegedly one of a number of local political leaders opposed to indigenous movements and Radio Ñomndaa. Another lead reportedly suggested that Gutiérrez may have angered the authorities by filming members of the Federal Investigations Agency (Agencia Federal de Investigación, AFI) while they were conducting a raid on the radio station.

In August last year, the WiPC wrote to the Guerrero state and federal authorities asking them to ensure that a full and impartial investigation into Gutiérrez's murder was carried out and that those responsible were brought to justice. However, a year after the killing, there has been no response from the authorities; nor have we received any reports on the progress of the investigation from other sources. Our understanding is that the crime remains unsolved.

This is particularly worrying given that Gutiérrez is just one of 24 writers murdered in Mexico between 2004 and today, the majority of them print journalists. Four more print journalists have disappeared in the same period. It is our understanding that few if any of these crimes have been properly investigated or punished. Given this bleak panorama, we are understandably concerned that Gutiérrez's murder should not meet with the same impunity.

The WiPC respectfully requests assurances that a full and impartial investigation into the murder of Miguel Ángel Gutiérrez Ávila is being carried out, and for details of any progress in the investigation to date.

I thank you in advance for your attention and assistance in this matter and look forward to your response. I or another representative of PEN would be delighted to meet with you to discuss our concerns in person.

Please feel free to contact the WiPC's Americas researcher, Tamsin Mitchell, at the above address or at [email protected] should you require any further information.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Karin Clark
Chair, Writers in Prison Committee, International PEN


RECOMMENDED ACTION:

Send appeals to the authorities:
- asking for assurances that a full and impartial investigation into the murder of Miguel Ángel Gutiérrez Ávila is being carried out
- requesting details of any progress in the investigation to date


APPEALS TO:

Eduardo Medina-Mora Icaza
Mexican Attorney General
Via your nearest Mexican Embassy
(Salutation: Dear Attorney General)

For a list of some Mexican embassies, see: http://www.sre.gob.mx/acerca/directorio/embajadas/dirembajadas.htm

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